Friday 30 September 2022

The prospect of a Labour majority changes the argument in Scotland


It may be that the Conservatives have already lost the next General Election. Labour has a 33 point lead. A Labour majority, which was unthinkable a short while ago is now a 7/4 favourite. I am obviously not a Labour supporter, but I look at the prospect of Labour winning a majority far more favourably than Labour merely winning most seats and relying on other parties to form a government.

There are a variety of economic opinions about the Truss/Kwarteng mini budget. Economics is not a science like physics. I sometimes think it is not a science at all, because it does not really predict. Few economists can predict market crashes, nor do they know for sure which stocks will rise, nor what will happen to currencies. If they did, they would make a fortune by betting on the markets.

But whatever the theoretical truth about the budget, it is clear that both market sentiment and the public is against. It might be that in the long run Truss and Kwarteng would be proved right, but we will never get to the long term if public opinion and the markets say No. You can’t buck the market even if the market is wrong.

The political consequence may already be such that the British public is ready for a Labour Government. Truss will have to succeed in the next two years in an extraordinary way to turn this around.

Democracy works better if one party does not stay in power for more than about ten years. The party that has been in government gets to reflect on its failure and develop new talent. If a party remains in permanent government, like the SNP, it becomes corrupt and ceases to really care about the electorate.

If Labour wins the next election, I will hope that it governs well and brings prosperity to Britain. I live here.  I do not believe that either socialism or social democracy are the answers to our problems. But voters need to learn this lesson once more because many of them are too young to remember the last time Labour was in government.

Starmer is dull, but intelligent and competent. He is not going to govern in an especially ideological way. With luck Britain might have a repeat of the first two Blair governments without the wars.

Labours main problem since 2015 has been the loss of its Scottish seats, with the result that it always looked as if it could not form a government without the help of the SNP. The debate then becomes whether Labour could govern as a minority or whether it would have to make concessions to the SNP, i.e., more money for Scotland and a second independence referendum. But this calculation changes if Labour can win an overall majority.

The SNP argument that England votes Tory while Scotland doesn’t, ceases to work if the UK overall votes Labour. The SNP cannot reasonably complain that Scotland votes SNP but doesn’t get an SNP government, because the SNP only stands in Scotland.

But more importantly the real prospect of a Labour government will change the nature of the campaign in Scotland. Former Labour voters in Scotland might be tempted to vote Labour again if their new MP might be part of a government. A successful Labour election campaign will make Scots focus more on UK issues and getting rid of the Tories rather than independence. This could see Labour gaining a number of seats in Scotland.

At the moment the SNP plan is still to hold an unofficial referendum in October 2023. We await the result of the Supreme Court case. But it is hard to imagine this taking place under the circumstances. There is too much turmoil. This leaves the SNP arguing that the next General Election is a de facto referendum. But the prospect of a Labour government kicking out the Tories would risk Scottish voters not paying attention to Sturgeon’s de facto referendum.

If Scots decide to vote Labour because it would actually kick Tories out rather than SNP which has only ever kicked Scottish Labour MPs out, then there is every chance that the SNP would not win 50.1% of the electorate let alone of the turnout. But then Prime Minister Starmer could on the morning after the General Election tell Sturgeon that she has lost her referendum and needs to wait another generation.

Scottish nationalism is fundamentally an anti-Tory movement. It developed in the 1980s as a response to Thatcher. Scottish nationalists have almost identical views to Labour supporters except on independence. But this means running an independence campaign during a Labour government will always be harder than during a Tory government. Why vote to leave when you agree with the Labour government? The only reason would be the prospect of a Tory government coming to power. But that would be a distant prospect, not a present concern.

If there is anything that will change the logjam of Scottish politics which keeps the SNP in permanent government it is a Labour majority at Westminster. It would provide Scottish voters with an example of change, that they might want to emulate especially if Labour in a way that was popular in Scotland.  

Oddly for a Conservative, I would far rather see Labour win well if it is to win at all. What matters to me most of all, beyond any economic arguments is that the UK remains intact. If the price of that were a majority Labour government, I would pay it in a second. I may even vote for Labour if I think it has the best chance of winning where I live.